Pledge from county to address a homes crisis

Desperately-needed homes for older people and families should be on the way to a north Northumberland village within months.

A crisis almost a year ago, when Berwick Borough Housing suddenly announced the closure of Horsdonside sheltered flats for elderly people, has paved the way for a predicted flurry of building to house young and old in Wooler.

Local people have been working on the issue and the county has set its new-home provision in the Glendale area for the next five years at 253 after a housing-needs survey.

County head of housing Paul Leo told Wooler councillors on Monday night that no other community had as much justification for investment in affordable housing. The county council is allocating £20million in cash and £20million-worth of land across Northumberland for the next three years.

Parish chairman Coun Alfreda Hindmarsh said members wanted the Horsdonside site kept for elderly people because there was a path to the High Street where they could mix with other people.

“A lot of the people who have moved out of Horsdonside are suffering – they are at the bottom end of town and can’t mix with people. They aren’t happy.”

Coun Hindmarsh asked if they would be able to move to the rebuilt development to be with their friends again.

Mr Leo said that was not usual and it would depend on what was built there, probably a mix of bungalows and two-bedroom flats.

“I think the fact they have been displaced – I don’t want to build too much expectation – but I think we could look at that,” he said.

“The whole Horsdonside incident has been traumatic, particularly for those who live there and their relatives.”

The county was hoping to build 12 to 16 family homes at The Martins and Southfield, subject to talks with the football club using part of the site.

“Although Horsdonside is now occupied by only a small number of residents, these other areas would be available to build more quickly and we would be keen to see that,” he said. “I’m hoping in months and certainly within a year we would be able to put in a planning application for The Martins and ideally Horsdonside as well.

“Engaging with Wooler is good because you want development. I would hope that within six months to a year we would know what we want to provide at Horsdonside, like X number of units for older people, which would then mean we could be putting in plans, certainly within six months.

“I’d hate to let you down on this. But you’ve got the justification – nowhere else in the whole county has that justification. If we have all this and we don’t start building, we are just bureaucrats.”

Coun Anthony Murray, who resigned from the board of BBH when it announced the Horsdonside closure, said: “If we can put our community heads together and decide this is where we want to go, we have got a good chance of going quite fast.

“Because I don’t think there are many communities that have given as much thought to this as we have, simply because of Horsdonside. We have been able to give it a huge amount of thought.”

Coun Hindmarsh said losing Horsdonside had been a blow, but it had got people working together on the wider issue.